Decades ago, little regard was given to the proper handling of asbestos. Though employers were usually informed as to the hazards posed by asbestos, workers handled the material as if there were no danger at all. That's because most employers kept the hazards of asbestos a secret from their workers and rarely supplied them with the proper gear to prevent them from inhaling asbestos fibers.
Today, however, anyone who handles asbestos needs to follow strict regulations outlined by organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Rules are for the safety of everyone who could potentially be affected by mishandling, including not only the person(s) directly involved with the asbestos but also the community-at-large.
In accordance with the rules established by the aforementioned agencies, workplaces that handle asbestos products must have an asbestos management program in place. Such programs inventory and identify any asbestos-containing materials, handle hazard and exposure control, conduct risk assessments, and educate and train management and workers as to the proper handling of asbestos-containing materials.
A qualified health and safety professional is usually in charge of the management program. He/she is experienced in the practice of occupational hygiene as it relates to asbestos management.
The Employer's Responsibility
If you work in a business that requires the handling of asbestos, the employer has a responsibility to provide a number of things for you. They include:
- A written health and safety policy
- Written emergency response procedures
- Proper training in the handling of asbestos
- Regular onsite inspections which determine that asbestos handling procedures are being followed and that no contamination is present
- Any equipment required (masks, respirators, gloves, aprons) for the safe handling of asbestos
- Regular inspection of equipment
- Available decontamination facilities to ensure that no asbestos dust is brought home to your family
- Notification of the risk associated with a particular task involving asbestos
- Accident investigations should contamination occur
- A health and safety representative available at all times to address concerns about asbestos safety
Though the procedures for handling asbestos should be fairly uniform throughout the country, every job is a bit different. Before you accept a job working with asbestos, be sure you are informed as to the risk involved (low, medium, high) and allow that to help you determine whether or not you wish to accept that particular job.
Remember, when asbestos is handled properly, the risk should be minimal. If your employer fails to provide you with the particulars listed above, chances are that they may not be operating in accordance with asbestos handling laws.
About Protective Clothing
Anyone handling asbestos should be provided with protective clothing that will be used ONLY when working with asbestos in order to avoid contamination to other areas/persons where asbestos is not present. The clothing should:
- Cover the entire body - including the head and feet - and fit snugly at the neck, ankles, and wrists
- Be made of a fabric that resists penetration by asbestos fibers
- Be immediately replaced or repaired if torn
Workers should be familiar with the clothing before undertaking their first task involving asbestos. They should also be aware that the clothing is tight-fitting and can be hot, sometimes resulting in the occurrence of heat-related disorders.
Handling Asbestos at Home
If there is damaged or "friable" (easily crumbled) asbestos in your home and you have determined that it must be removed, it is highly advisable not to handle it yourself. Licensed asbestos abatement contractors are readily available and can assure that the material is removed properly without danger to you, your family, or your community.
When you hire an asbestos removal company, be sure to ask for a copy of their license and do not be tempted to take any shortcuts in the interest of saving money. Dollars saved could cost you your health later in life.
Last modified: December 28, 2010.